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T. E. Lawrence to D. G. Pearman


Dear Pearman,

This not a statement. There is nothing I wish to say. The consequences of what we did are going forward: and we have only the duty of spectator. Too much is being said.

However, if you are committed to saying more, then I hope you'll stress the local nature of the Arab Revolt. The Arabic speaking peoples are as diverse as the English-speaking and equally distinct. From Morocco to Mesopotamia is as far, spiritually, as from San Francisco to Aberdeen. Further there's a world between the Beduin at Azrak, and the peasant at Amman:- though the journey is only fifty miles. Only a criminal would wish to make them all alike.

Our aim was to free from Turkey, and make self-governing, not the Beduin, who have a secure, unenvied freedom: but the settled peoples of Syria and Irak. To avoid upsetting places like Egypt and Algiers, the Arab Movement had to be kept within these dykes. In the Middle East religion has completely yielded to nationalism as the motive in politics. So our job was relatively easy.

When people talk of Arab confederations or empires, they talk fantastically. It will be generations, I expect - unless the vital tempo of the East is much accelerated - before any two Arabic states join voluntarily. I agree their only future hope is that they should join but it must be a natural growing-together. Forced unions are pernicious: and politics, in such things, should come after geography and economics. Communications and trade must be improved before provinces can join.

The nearest approach to an Arab Empire at present is Ibn Saud's. It is a figment, built on sand. Nothing static will rise in the desert, which has seen hundreds of such tyrannies as his, all cemented (less liberally, perhaps) with blood. It will pass.

The only places where Arabic governments are being attempted today are Hejaz, Yemen, Irak, and Egypt. Of these Hejaz is better under Ibn Saud than it was under Hussein. Hussein was a legacy of the war. We were in his debt, for armed help, and couldn't (can't) say all our detestation of his misgovernment. I was glad beyond words when he went. Ali, his son, was a decent fellow, who did not deserve his father's legacy of hostility with Ibn Saud. But of course he went out. I do not think that Hejaz can ever become a great place. Interesting though.

Irak is the most hopeful spot. It has done wonders since 1921, when Winston started it: or re-founded it. The war-administration there was not profitable either to us or to the Irakis.

Syria should have been better, just at first, than Irak, for its people were more advanced and more experienced. But the French after turning out Feisal refused a single central government of all but Lebanon: and broke it into four. So tiny a place cannot afford five administrations. Eventually it will find such another solution as Irak: but you can gauge the good fortune of England in having had Winston Churchill as its Colonial Secretary in 1921, by comparing the cost of Irak, since then, with the cost of Syria: and the happiness of Irak with the misery of Syria. French pride is engaged, and they refuse to learn by their mistakes. We turned over a new leaf, after Curzon went.

Do make clear to your lads, whoever they are, that my objects were to save England, and France too, from the follies of the imperialists, who would have us, in 1920, repeat the exploits of Clive or Rhodes. The world has passed by that point. I think, though, there's a great future for the British Empire as a voluntary association: and I'd like it to have Treaty States on a big scale attached to it. We've lots of Treaty States now, from Nepal downwards: let's have Egypt and Irak, at least, to add to them. We are so big a firm that we can offer unique advantages to smaller businesses to associate with us: if we can get out attractive terms of association.

There, is this the sort of bilge you wanted? Do with it anything you think useful. What a far cry between us since Azrak. I'd like another bathe in those pools: flies & all.


T. E. Shaw

Source: DG 576-578
Checked: dn/
Last revised: 27 February 2006

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